The deathly hush signified India’s cricket at the Eden Gardens. The master was out, the Test almost lost; it was a situation that fans of Indian cricket have come to accept as something routine. The crowd sat stunned as Sachin Tendulkar flopped and dragged himself away from the crease amidst wildly celebrating fielders. His cricket in ruins on a day when he ought to have stood firm, Tendulkar presented a disturbing sight of a beaten warrior.
The spectators, most of them, realised this could be his last appearance at the Eden and accorded Tendulkar a standing ovation. Only, he would not love to remember the applause. They did not come for an act of triumph.
England, resuming at 509 for six, earned a first-innings lead of 207 runs and clinically dismantled India in the third Test. The home team, courtesy R. Ashwin’s dogged 83 not out, led by 32 runs and a wicket in hand to return for the final rites on Sunday. A dejected Eden witnessed an Indian capitulation that would create debate and demands for some drastic changes with a former great already commenting it was time for action than post-mortems. The talent pool, however, is mediocre.
England’s bowling acquired an incisive look and it certainly enhanced its reputation by sticking to the basics. Some astute planning by the English also ensured the Indians had to struggle to survive. The planning was evident in field settings and the line of attack — Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni were snared outside off, an age old Indian failing. If Monty Panesar was ineffective it hardly mattered. The others were on the job, especially James Anderson and Steven Finn, testing the batsmen with their accuracy and late swing.
But off-spinner Graeme Swann won the hearts with two big wickets, Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar. He actually swung the contest on its head by scalping a plunderer and an accumulator to set up the victory on a lovely afternoon for cricket. When the dust settles on this drama, it would be prudent for the home fans to accept that England was a far superior team. India just could not bat, bowl and field.
The Indians were done in by pace and spin and the exuberance of an English team that is so convinced of its abilities. The plans fell in place as India’s batting succumbed to the relentless pressure that Anderson, Finn and Swann generated with their prowess. India was abysmally short of motivation. If there was any, it certainly was not apparent. From a healthy 86 for no loss at lunch, the Indians disintegrated in the second session, and headed towards defeat with some inept batting.
India’s batting lacked character. The mode of dismissals suggested lack of discipline. Sehwag remained the only batsman to make an impact as he scattered the field and made his runs with ease. Alastair Cook challenged him with fielders pushed back, daring him, and Sehwag accepted the offer, producing some vintage shots before losing his focus soon after lunch. He did not connect as he attempted an expansive drive and saw the ball sneak in and disturb the stumps. To say he played away from the body would be churlish. Sehwag plays away from the body and gets away most time. This was not his day.
It was not Tendulkar’s day either. In fact, his good days have receded alarmingly now. He seemed in a state of confusion in the last innings. To defend or attack was a dilemma. On Saturday, he did not even last long enough to face such a challenge. The sixth ball he faced, the bat lunged tentatively but the ball stayed on course decisively, landing on seam and surprising the master to take the edge and fly to slip. Tendulkar was done in; India too.
Gambhir had blossomed in Sehwag’s company, the two relishing the English attack but the left-hander messed it up with his indiscretion. He summoned Cheteshwar Pujara for a difficult single and the result was disastrous. Pujara is hardly athletic or electric. Gambhir then survived a caught-at-slip appeal. His concentration had been dented and he displayed poor cricketing sense in that casual drive. He would not even shadow practice that shot for some time now.
Kohli, Dhoni and the rest just caved in. Kohli and Dhoni fell to nudges befitting one-day cricket and the others, barring Ashwin, joined the procession.
Ashwin, who gave away 183 runs, escaped stumping at 22, chipped in with a gutsy unbeaten knock but the humiliation was telling as India just about managed to carry the match into the fifth day. A final word on the pitch! It was good for Test cricket.
INDIA: 1st INNINGS 316
ENGLAND: 1st INNINGS A. Cook (run out) (377b, 23x4, 2x6)190 N. Compton lbw b Ojha (137b, 6x4, 1x6)57J. Trott c Dhoni b Ojha (223b, 10x4)87K. Pietersen lbw b Ashwin (85b, 9x4, 1x6)54I. Bell c Dhoni b Ishant (23b)5S. Patel c Sehwag b Ojha (47b, 5x4)33M. Prior c Dhoni b Zaheer (49b, 6x4, 1x6)41G. Swann c Sehwag b Ojha (46b, 3x4)21S. Finn (not out) (13b, 1x4)4J. Anderson c Sehwag b Ashwin (9b, 1x4)9M. Panesar lbw b Ashwin (1b)0
Extras (b-13, lb-4, nb-5) 22
Total (in 167.3 overs) 523
Fall of wickets: 1-165 (Compton), 2-338 (Trott), 3-359 (Cook), 4-395 (Bell), 5-420 (Pietersen), 6-453 (Patel), 7-510 (Swann), 8-510 (Prior), 9-523 (Anderson).
INDIA BOWLING (O M R W)
Zaheer 31, 6, 94, 1
Ishant 29, 8, 78, 1
Ashwin 52.3, 9, 183, 3
Ojha 52, 10, 142, 4
Yuvraj 3, 1, 9, 0
INDIA: 2nd INNINGS G. Gambhir c Prior b Finn (104b, 4x4, 1x6)40 V. Sehwag b Swann (57b, 7x4)49C. Pujara run out (22b, 2x4)8 S. Tendulkar c Trott b Swann (6b, 1x4)5 V. Kohli c Prior b Finn (60b, 3x4)20 Yuvraj b Anderson (17b, 2x4)11M.S. Dhoni c Cook b Anderson (3b)0R. Ashwin (batting) (151b, 13x4)83Zaheer lbw b Finn (4b)0Ishant b Panesar (53b, 2x4)10P. Ojha (not out) (21b)3
Extras (b-8, lb-2) 10
Total (for nine wkts. in 83 overs) 239
Fall of wickets: 1-86 (Sehwag), 2-98 (Pujara), 3-103 (Gambhir), 4-107 (Tendulkar), 5-122 (Yuvraj), 6-122 (Dhoni), 7-155 (Kohli), 8-159 (Zaheer), 9-197 (Ishant).
ENGLAND BOWLING (O M R W)
Anderson 15, 4, 38, 2
Finn 17, 6, 37, 3
Panesar 22, 1, 75, 1
Swann 28, 9, 70, 2
Patel 1, 0, 9, 0